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Is your non-stim pre workout rubbish?

The Powerlifter's Guide: What to Look for in a Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout


As a powerlifter, you know that every training session counts. Powerlifting is a sport of cumulative gains and tallying up those 0.1% improvements over time. Whether you're gearing up for a heavy squat, deadlift, or bench press, your pre-workout routine can be the cherry on top of the cake that is success. While stimulants like caffeine can offer acute performance benefits, they're not for everyone - there are several reasons why you may want to avoid stimulant pre workouts:


  • Many of us train late in the evening and don’t want to impact our sleep quality. 

  • Many others of us would also rather skip the jitters and anxiety that stimulants can bring about. 

  • You may be wanting to take a break from caffeine to re-sensitise yourself and gain the full benefits stimulants can provide.

  • You may be on a deload and want to control arousal and hype at this time.


If any of these are the case, a stimulant-free pre-workout may be the perfect solution. But with countless options on the market, how do you choose the right one? Is one that you’re currently using covering all of your bases or is it simply a bang average pre workout minus the caffeine? We’ll dive into the key ingredients to look for when selecting a stimulant-free pre-workout tailored specifically for powerlifters, including the addition of nootropics:


Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that enhances muscular endurance by buffering lactic acid buildup during high-intensity exercise. This can help you push through those demanding volume sets and squeeze out a few extra reps, ultimately leading to greater gains in strength and muscle mass. Look for a pre-workout with a clinically effective dose of beta-alanine (typically around 2-4 grams per serving) to experience its full benefits. One common side effect associated with beta-alanine supplementation is a tingling sensation, particularly in the face, neck, and extremities. This sensation, known as paresthesia, is harmless and temporary but can be surprising or uncomfortable for some individuals.


So how does beta alanine work? Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that combines with another amino acid called histidine in muscle tissue to form a dipeptide known as carnosine. Carnosine is abundantly present in skeletal muscle and serves as a key intracellular buffer system. During high-intensity exercise, like during training as a powerlifter, muscle cells rapidly break down glucose to produce energy in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic metabolism). This process generates lactate ions, which can lower the pH of muscle tissue, leading to acidosis. Carnosine acts as a pH buffer within muscle cells, helping to maintain optimal intracellular pH levels despite the production of lactate. It does this by accepting protons (H⁺ ions) released during anaerobic metabolism, thereby preventing excessive acidification of muscle tissue. By buffering the accumulation of protons and maintaining intracellular pH within an optimal range, carnosine helps delay the onset of muscle fatigue during high-intensity exercise. This allows us to sustain higher levels of exertion for longer periods before experiencing a decline in performance... more train more gain


Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is one of the most well-researched and effective supplements for increasing strength, power, and muscle mass. Opt for a pre-workout containing creatine monohydrate if you aren’t already supplementing with creatine monohydrate daily already. For most individuals, a daily dose of 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate is sufficient to saturate muscle stores over time. So if your pre workout includes adequate creatine, no need to supplement on top of this! 


So how does creatine monohydrate work?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small amounts in foods like meat and fish, as well as synthesised in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Within muscle cells, creatine is converted into phosphocreatine (PCr), which plays a crucial role in the regeneration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy currency of cells. During short bursts of high-intensity exercise, such as lifting heavy weights or performing explosive movements, the demand for ATP increases dramatically. ATP provides the energy necessary for muscle contraction, but its stores are limited and quickly depleted during intense activity. Phosphocreatine serves as a rapid reservoir of high-energy phosphate groups, allowing for the rapid regeneration of ATP from adenosine diphosphate (ADP). By replenishing ATP stores more rapidly, creatine supplementation can enhance strength and power output during resistance training and other explosive activities. This allows athletes to perform more repetitions with heavier weights, leading to greater muscle hypertrophy and strength gains over time. In addition to its immediate effects on strength and power, creatine supplementation may also promote muscle growth over the long term. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can increase muscle protein synthesis, leading to greater gains in lean body mass, particularly when combined with resistance training.


Citrulline Malate

Citrulline malate is a compound that increases nitric oxide production in the body, leading to improved blood flow, nutrient delivery, and pump during exercise. This can enhance performance, reduce fatigue, and support recovery, making it an ideal ingredient for powerlifters, strength athletes, and bodybuilders. Aim for a pre-workout with a clinically effective dose of citrulline malate (typically around 6-8 grams per serving) to maximize its benefits. Citrulline malate supplementation has been shown to reduce perceptions of fatigue and improve exercise tolerance, particularly during high-intensity or prolonged exercise bouts. By promoting greater oxygen delivery and nutrient availability to working muscles, citrulline malate can help delay the onset of fatigue and help us sustain higher levels of performance for longer durations! 


So how does citrulline malate work?

Citrulline malate is a combination of the amino acid citrulline and malic acid. Citrulline is a precursor to arginine, which is a substrate for nitric oxide (NO) synthesis. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes and widens blood vessels, leading to increased blood flow to muscles during exercise. By increasing nitric oxide production, citrulline malate enhances blood flow to working muscles, delivering oxygen, nutrients, and hormones more efficiently. This improved circulation can enhance exercise performance by delaying fatigue, increasing endurance, and promoting a greater pump during training. The increased blood flow facilitated by citrulline malate supplementation also enhances the delivery of nutrients, such as oxygen, glucose, amino acids, and electrolytes, to muscle cells. This can support energy production, muscle contraction, and recovery processes, ultimately optimizing performance and accelerating post-exercise recovery! 


Betaine Anhydrous

Betaine anhydrous, also known as trimethylglycine (TMG), is a naturally occurring compound found in beetroot and spinach! It has been shown to increase strength, power, and muscle endurance, making it a valuable addition to a stimulant-free pre-workout for powerlifters. Look for a pre-workout containing around 1.25-2.5 grams of betaine anhydrous per serving to support your performance goals. This dosage range has been shown to be effective for improving strength, power, and muscle endurance in athletes. Betaine anhydrous supplementation is typically consumed 30 to 60 minutes before exercise to allow for optimal absorption and utilisation.


So how does betaine anhydrous work?

Betaine anhydrous is a naturally occurring osmolyte, which means it helps regulate cellular hydration and maintain osmotic balance within cells. During exercise, particularly intense or prolonged bouts, our cells can become dehydrated due to fluid loss and osmotic shifts. Betaine anhydrous supplementation supports cellular hydration and osmoregulation, ensuring optimal cellular function and performance. Studies have shown that betaine anhydrous supplementation can increase muscle strength and power output, particularly during high-intensity exercise. By supporting cellular hydration and osmoregulation, betaine anhydrous enhances muscle contractility and neuromuscular function, leading to greater force production and performance gains in movements across training sessions from compounds to accessories. 


L-Carnitine L-Tartrate

L-carnitine L-tartrate is a form of carnitine that plays a key role in energy metabolism and fat oxidation. It has been shown to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, enhance recovery, and improve exercise performance, particularly during high-intensity training. Consider choosing a pre-workout with a dose of around 1-2 grams of L-carnitine L-tartrate 30 to 60 minutes before exercise to allow for optimal absorption and utilization to support your training and recovery efforts. 


So how does L-Carnitine L-Tartrate work?

Intense exercise, particularly resistance training, can lead to muscle damage and inflammation, resulting in soreness, stiffness, and impaired performance. L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation has been shown to reduce markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation, leading to faster recovery and less post-exercise soreness - this allows us to manage training more frequently and with higher volume without experiencing excessive fatigue or overtraining symptoms, ultimately leading to greater gains in strength, power, and muscle mass over time!


Electrolytes

Electrolytes sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are essential for hydration, muscle function, and overall performance, especially during intense exercise. If you’re not already including electrolytes in your intra-workout drink or pre-training routine, look for a stimulant-free pre-workout that includes electrolytes to help replenish lost minerals and maintain optimal hydration levels throughout your workout.


What should I look for when it comes to electrolytes?


  1. . Sodium (Na+): Sodium is the primary electrolyte lost through sweat during exercise, and it plays a crucial role in maintaining fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction. Adequate sodium intake is essential for preventing dehydration and hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) during prolonged or intense exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends consuming around 500 to 700 milligrams of sodium per liter of fluid during exercise lasting longer than one hour.

  2. Potassium (K+): Potassium is another key electrolyte involved in fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve function. While potassium losses through sweat are generally lower than sodium losses, maintaining adequate potassium levels is still important for preventing muscle cramps, fatigue, and electrolyte imbalances. The ACSM recommends consuming around 150 to 300 milligrams of potassium per liter of fluid during exercise, although individual needs may vary.

  3. Magnesium (Mg2+): Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including energy metabolism, muscle function, and protein synthesis. Magnesium losses through sweat are relatively small compared to sodium and potassium, but inadequate magnesium intake can still impair exercise performance and recovery. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is around 310 to 420 milligrams per day for adults, with higher needs during periods of increased physical activity.

  4. Calcium (Ca2+): While calcium is not a major electrolyte lost through sweat, it still plays a role in muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and bone health. Adequate calcium intake is important for maintaining strong bones and preventing stress fractures, especially in athletes engaging in repetitive weight-bearing activities like powerlifting. The RDA for calcium is around 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day for most adults, with higher needs for adolescents, pregnant women, and postmenopausal women.

  5. In addition to sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, other electrolytes such as chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate also play important roles in maintaining fluid balance, acid-base balance, and cellular function during exercise. Consuming a balanced electrolyte blend, either through whole foods or supplementation, can help replenish lost minerals and maintain optimal hydration levels throughout your training session.


Nootropics

Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers, are a class of compounds that improve cognitive function, focus, and mental clarity. Ingredients like L-theanine, alpha-GPC, Huperzine A, and tyrosine can help us stay mentally sharp and focused during training sessions, leading to improved performance and concentration. It goes without saying that whilst these compounds improve cognitive function, you’ll need to make sure you’re covering the basics first i.e. getting enough sleep, keeping your hydration in check and taking your nutrition seriously to get the most out of these. Look for a pre-workout that includes well dosed nootropics to optimize your mental game without the use of stimulants.


  1. L-Theanine: L-Theanine is an amino acid found naturally in tea leaves, particularly in green tea. It’s known for its calming and focusing effects on the brain without causing drowsiness. L-Theanine works by increasing alpha brain wave activity, which is associated with a state of relaxed alertness and improved attention. By promoting a state of mental clarity and reducing anxiety or jitters often associated with stimulants, L-Theanine can help us stay focused and concentrated during training sessions.

  2. Alpha-GPC (Alpha-Glycerophosphocholine): Alpha-GPC is a choline-containing compound that is naturally present in the brain and found in small amounts in certain foods. It serves as a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, learning, and muscle contraction. Supplementation with alpha-GPC has been shown to enhance cognitive function, memory formation, and focus, making it a valuable nootropic for powerlifters seeking to optimize their mental performance during training sessions.

  3. Tyrosine: Tyrosine is an amino acid precursor to neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, which play key roles in mood regulation, stress response, and cognitive function. During periods of intense physical or mental stress, tyrosine levels can become depleted, leading to fatigue, decreased alertness, and impaired cognitive performance. Supplementation with tyrosine can help replenish neurotransmitter levels and support mental clarity, focus, and attention, particularly during challenging training sessions or competitions.

  4. Huperzine A: Huperzine A is a natural compound derived from the Chinese club moss Huperzia serrata. It is known for its ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter crucial for learning, memory, and muscle contraction. By inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, Huperzine A increases the availability of acetylcholine in the brain, leading to enhanced cognitive function and memory retention! When combined with other nootropic ingredients such as L-theanine, alpha-GPC, and tyrosine, Huperzine A can synergistically enhance cognitive function, focus, and mental clarity. By targeting different neurotransmitter systems and cognitive pathways, these nootropics work together to provide comprehensive cognitive support, allowing us to stay mentally sharp and focused during training sessions or competitions.


One of the key advantages of using nootropics is that they offer cognitive enhancement without the use of stimulants such as caffeine or ephedrine (a WADA banned substance). While stimulants can provide a temporary boost in energy and alertness, they canalso cause jitteriness, anxiety, or crashes. Nootropics like L-theanine, alpha-GPC, huperzine A, and tyrosine offer a more balanced and sustainable approach to mental enhancement, supporting long-term cognitive health and performance without the drawbacks of stimulant use!


When shopping for a stimulant-free pre-workout, it's essential to prioritize quality, transparency, and effectiveness. Look for products that are backed by scientific research, free from unnecessary fillers or artificial additives, and manufactured by reputable companies with rigorous quality control standards. If you’re a drug tested athlete we’d recommend opting for a batch tested product and stress the importance of performing your own research as part of your own due diligence! Additionally, consider consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure the chosen pre-workout aligns with your individual needs, goals, and dietary preferences.


Ultimately, finding the right stimulant-free pre-workout can help you power through your workouts with focus, intensity, and determination, setting the stage for success in the gym and on the platform. With the right ingredients in your corner, you'll be well-equipped to crush your powerlifting goals and reach new heights of strength and performance.


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